Bubba Slow-Step’s excellent adventure
Day 1 Monday Sept 11th
The plan was to wake around 5:30am. It seems both of us tried to extend courtesy to one another by laying in bed awake, waiting for the alarm. As we ate breakfast a gray fox trotted through the grounds. Perhaps that explains the small fenced in doggy area behind the proprietor’s house.
We got to the public launch at Poplar Lake around 8:30am. In addition to our vehicles and Pete’s displaying the Flying Moose, was a car in the lot with Wisconsin plates. We were off and paddling well before 9:30.
Arrival into the BWCAW was marked with a sign about half way down Lizz Lake. We made good time toward Vista as the wind was rather calm and the portages to Caribou, Horseshoe, and Vista relatively short. The landings in the area tend to be rocky however. It pays to have at least one wet footer in the canoe for this area.
We started looking for Pete’s canoe once we got to Horseshoe. He said he would be staying at a campsite there his first night. Of the sites we passed, only the one directly across the portage from Caribou seemed occupied. When we approached the islands in the narrows of Vista we saw that our campsite of first choice was occupied. We quickly checked out the alternate site, which was located very high on a steep shore, then paddled toward the other. The occupier was non-other than Pete. He had got there earlier in the morning. We landed there a bit before 11:30am. Pete asked if we wanted to stay there for the night, and since it had the space for our tents we said yes.
We passed the afternoon setting up camp and visiting. At dusk, we made use of the wood Pete prepared. He told us he had heard that the Aurora Borealis might make an appearance by 9:30pm. Well, for old dudes used to getting up in the wee early hours of the AM, it was pretty hard staying up that late. I was the last to enter my tent at just after 9:30. I hadn’t put the fly on over the tent so I could scan the sky as I slowly fell asleep. I’m not sure when I did, but I never did see them. Steve, who had to get up in the middle of the night, didn’t either.
A day without aid
Day 2 Tuesday Sept 12th
Steve and I were going to stay another night at that campsite so we could explore the Misquah Hills area further. Pete said he really didn’t have any plans. First on our agenda was to explore the Morgan Lake loop. Because of the simplicity of that loop we left the maps and compasses at camp. I don’t recommend to travel this way generally, as even a simple one as this can sometimes be disorientating. Pete decided to part ways near the east arm of Vista in which we were about to enter for our loop.
The four lakes in this loop had somewhat technical, rocky landings. And even though very short, the north to south portages are steep. Morgan Lake, the biggest in the loop, is also the most picturesque. You can see Lima Mountain on it’s east end.
After stopping back at camp around lunch time, we proceeded toward our next destinations. Misquah Lake lived up to its namesake with high hills, and cliffs off the east shore in the distance. The landings between Vista and Little Trout Lake also proved to be very rocky, and more than once we had to use a painter line to position the canoe. We left the canoe in an out of the way spot and walked the portage to Little Trout Lake without burden. That portage must be one of the most difficult in the entire BWCAW. It has everything; steep inclines, boulder gardens, and length. Just before reaching Little Trout, a small forest fire created an overlook that provided a scenic peek at the lake. On the south shore of the lake we spotted a canoe being paddled solo.
We got back to camp feeling pretty spent from the day. After supper, and very close to sunset, we saw that solo canoeist heading towards the other campsite in the narrows. He seemed to hesitate, then proceeded to land his canoe there. We went to bed soon thereafter.
Day 3 Wednesday Sept 13th
Steve and I decided to take a shorter loop up to Meeds. So instead of going though Winchell, Omega, and Henson Lakes, our route would take us through Jump and Allen Lakes. This meant today would end up being a shorter travel day. We still wanted to check out Winchell Lake however, so our destination today was going to be a campsite on Gaskin.
We backtracked up to Horseshoe Lake and traveled west in its southern arm. We had been hoping to see a moose, but it wasn’t to be. The shores of Horseshoe have many tall White Pines and dead snags that seem to be perfect Bald Eagle habitat. I’m not sure if their migration had already begun, but there were no eagles to be seen either.
We reached Gaskin Lake well before noon. It appeared we had the whole lake to ourselves so we decided we would stay at a campsite that suited us best. The first campsite we checked out was the island site on the far east side of the lake. This campsite is not marked on the Voyageur Map that I had purchased the prior Sunday. It is a huge open site, and although it was acceptable to us, it had a rocky landing area. We moved toward the Redeye Fire scar to check out a few more campsites. I didn’t take notes on this trip, and my memory is a bit fuzzy, so the campsite locations may be mixed up. The next site we checked out had a great landing and stairs leading up to the fire grate. Unfortunately, when the lid of the nearly full latrine was lifted, a cloud of flies came rushing out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want flies bouncing off my bottom and giblets while tending to my morning constitutional. A third campsite not only had a full latrine complete with a brigade of flies, but also part of cook kit was left by the grate. We didn’t want to linger to see what else may have been left behind. We quickly decided to take the island site once we saw another canoe on the lake. It was the solo canoeist we saw from the day before.
After settling in in our campsite we headed off to see Winchell Lake. Since our time was limited we were going to return to camp after a predetermined amount had passed. We never did make it to the waterfall, yet it was an enjoyable paddle none the less. The high points include the loon Steve almost got a picture of, the huge flock of Canada Geese, the high hills on the southwest shore, and the lone green Balsam Fir amid the Redeye burn zone.
The island campsite provided exceptional views of the sunset that night. The distance between the fire grate and tent pads we selected didn’t matter to me. The two large boulders located by the pads had flat spots for placing my single burner Coleman stove. I only need to boil water for my meals anyway. To my misfortune, the 21-year-old stove failed that night just as the water began to boil. The whole burner assembly became engulfed in flames. Good thing I wasn’t on a solo because I didn’t have a back-up.